Turkey

Turkey shares legal grounds to answer 'genocide' claims

Justice Ministry answers questions on 1915 events, refutes lies while providing legal basis for facts

Sena Guler   | 27.04.2021
Turkey shares legal grounds to answer 'genocide' claims

ANKARA

Turkey's Justice Ministry responded Monday to claims regarding the events of 1915 with an infographic containing lies and facts in legal terms on the issue.

On Saturday, US President Joe Biden called the events of 1915 a "genocide," breaking with a long-held tradition of American presidents refraining from using the term.

Answering a series of questions, the infographic started with the definition of genocide, stating that it is a type of crime against the international community, the definition and framework of which is set by law.

It recalled that the crime was first defined at the international level by the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Stressing that Turkey has been a party to the convention since 1950, it said countries also regulated the crime of genocide in their domestic laws per the convention, to which 149 states are parties.

On the crime in Turkey's legislation, the infographic read: "The Turkish Penal Code numbered 5237, which entered into force on June 1, 2005, regulates the crime of genocide in Article 76 and crimes against humanity in Article 77 by the framework set forth in international documents."

It said the statute of limitations would not be applied in those crimes committed after June 1, 2005.

The crime must be committed with a specific intention, it said, defining provisions of the crime, and added that there must be an act of partially or entirely destroying a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group just because of their nature.

"With this motive, acts of destruction such as killing and injuring, directed towards a certain group cause genocide crime," it said.

Answering the question of who decides an act to be genocide, it said undoubtedly, genocide is of interest to various disciplines such as politics, sociology and history.

"However, for an act to constitute a crime of genocide legally, either the jurisdiction of the country where the alleged acts took place or an international judicial mechanism (international criminal courts or International Court of Justice) with jurisdiction must decide on the issue," it said, referring to Article 6 of the 1948 UN Convention.

The accused must be alive for a prosecution to be initiated, it added.

Genocide crimes in world history

Answering the question of whether there are judicial decisions concluded as genocide in world history, it said in 1945, the Nuremberg Court tried Germany's war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It recalled that the court, which technically did not handle genocide, was established with an international status.

"Since 1954, Germany has started to prosecute the perpetrators of the Holocaust with the laws it has enacted," the ministry said, adding that the country lifted the statute of limitations in 1965, paving the way for the application of laws to past events.

"At the international level, the International Criminal Tribunal of the former Yugoslavia was established in 1993 and the Rwanda International Criminal Court in 1994, and crimes against humanity were tried and genocide was determined," it recalled.

The 1998 Rwanda verdict is the first judgment of genocide by an international court in world history, it said, adding that in 2007, the International Court of Justice acknowledged that there was a genocide in Bosnia.

"Therefore, there is a legal basis for calling the events in Germany, Bosnia and Rwanda a 'genocide'," it stressed.

On the question of whether there is an authorized court decision describing the events of 1915 as "genocide," it said there is no judicial decision on this matter and it is not possible principally and formally.

"It is out of the question for a judicial mechanism to take action against the framework laid down in the UN Convention and the decisions of the International Court of Justice," it emphasized.

Can European Court of Human Rights judge 1915 events?

In its Perincek v. Switzerland and Mercan and others v. Switzerland judgments, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) stated that it does not have the authority to make binding decisions contrary to the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice in the context of the Genocide Convention regarding the events experienced by the Armenians during the Ottoman Empire in 1915 and whether the deportation could be deemed 'genocide' in international law.

"Therefore, any claims based on the 1915 events cannot be put forward before the ECHR," the ministry said.

Answering the question of whether not recognizing the events of 1915 as genocide can be punished, it referred to the above-mentioned ECHR trials and said: "In these cases, the Swiss law, which considers it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide allegations, received a violation decision from the ECHR."

The issue has been evaluated within the scope of freedom of expression, it said.

On the question, if there is any legal basis to US President Biden's remarks, it said: "Considering the Genocide Convention, to which our country is also a party, and the ICJ jurisprudence interpreting this agreement, the US president's statements have no legal basis."

It highlighted that the states also have a right not to be tainted, just like individuals.

"The unfounded claims put forward totally with political motives do not mean anything other than the quest to denigrate the glorious history of a nation that has lived with justice and law for centuries."

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Turkish stance on 1915 events

Turkey's position on the events of 1915 is that the deaths of Armenians in eastern Anatolia took place when some sided with invading Russians and revolted against Ottoman forces. A subsequent relocation of Armenians resulted in numerous casualties.

Turkey objects to the presentation of these incidents as "genocide," describing them as a tragedy in which both sides suffered casualties.

Ankara has repeatedly proposed the creation of a joint commission of historians from Turkey and Armenia as well as international experts to tackle the issue.

In 2014, Recep Tayyip Erdogan – Turkey's then-prime minister and now president – expressed his condolences to the descendants of Armenians who lost their lives in the events of 1915.

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